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ALEXANDER  VOK  HTTMBOkDT.                227
Humboldt landed upon an island which is cele-
brated in the country for its turtle fisheries, and which
the mission Uruana considers as its property. There
was a company of above three hundred persons of
several Indian tribes congregated here, who slept be-
neath, huts of palm leaves, each tribe on separate
encampments. There were also some white people,
merchants from Angostura, who came to purchase the
oil of the tortoise eggs from the natives,
Humboldt and hisacompanions seemed suspicious
characters to the missionary, and the object of their
journey very mysterious.
" Who will believe/7 he said, " that you have left
your country to be consumed here by mosquitoes,
merely to measure lands which do not belong to you/*
Humboldt could only satisfy his cloxibts by the
recommendation of a father guardian of a Franciscan
convent, and by the presence of the brother-in-law of
the Statthalter of Varinas, who had accompanied
him 011 the jotirney on the Orinocco.
Here  Humboldt saw the manner of the tortoise
catching.    The great Axran tortoise lays its eggs at
the time  of the lowest water, always beginning  at
night, immediately after sunset.    The animal digs a
pit two feet deep and three feet broad, whose sides it
is said to cement with its urinA     The impulse to lay
its eggs is so urgent, that some tortoises make use of
the holes which oth'ers have dug but not filled up-
again, and *lay a second layer  of eggs  over the first.
The number of the tortoises labouring on the shore is
so great, that  morning  sometimes  surprises them at
their incompleted wort.    But althoxigh they move
away qxiickly,  they can  easily be caught by hand./
The egg gatherers investigate tbe situation and extant
of tlie   egg   deposits with a long pole.    When the
pole is pressed perpendicularly into the soil^ the sad-
denly ceasing resistance reveals the soft soil on which,
tlie eggs lie.    The eggs are gathered with a metho-
Q 2 *